More Environmentalist Confusions
Tibor R. Machan
The New York Observer reported in its April 15, 2013, issue (B 1) that Leonardo DiCaprio is teaming up with Christie’s in New York City, to hold a “major philanthropic auction.” I am not interested in the details, which appear to me a kind of kiss up to fellow celebrities on the political/cultural Left. But the following statement from the actor is quite instructive:
The Observer reports: ‘’The world’s forests, oceans and biodiversity provide us with innumerable benefits like oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink, and an abundant food supply,’ Mr. DiCaprio wrote in a letter to artists asking for donations, on his foundation’s stationary, the promotional item mentioned above. ‘And yet our planet and these vital ecosystems that sustain life are under enormous pressures from modern civilization’.”
Trouble is that from an environmentalist viewpoint the enormous pressure of which DiCaprio speaks is itself part of the environment, not some independent natural force. In short, modern civilization is part of the system! If it causes harm, that means the system itself is causing harm.
This is an inescapable fact. Environmentalists have no justification for removing people, including the people of modern civilization, from the environment. From their viewpoint, we are all in it together. We are all parts of nature, as well.
Interestingly a good many environmentalists are also animal rights champions and their argument includes the idea that human beings aren’t different from other animals in crucial respects. Tom Regan has argued that non-human animals possess virtually the same level of consciousness as we do and thus ascribing to them basic rights such as human beings have is justified. The other main advocate of treating animals like humans are treated, which justifies “liberating” them, holds that the feelings and interests of non-human animals differ very little from those of human beings, something that once again warrants ascribing to them basic rights akin to those we ascribe to ourselves.
All this suggests that animal rights advocates who are environmentalists place human beings within the realm of nature. So the enormous pressure from modern civilization–i.e., people–is actually just one additional natural pressure, namely, evolutionary pressure.
The bottom line is that for environmentalists the contributions people make to environmental developments are natural ones and cannot be rejected as something alien. Pollution, technology, modern agriculture, etc., etc., are all part of nature as far as environmentalist are concerned (including Mr. DiCaprio). From his point of view, then, even the environmental movement is but an aspect of nature! Its battles are natural battles, no different in principle from hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.
I point out all this mainly to reduce the rhetorical heat emanating from too many environmentalists whereby what they like about the world counts as natural but what they do not counts as alien. That just will not do.
Public Choice Theory is Overlooked
Tibor R. Machan
Whenever public officials promise to manage affairs of state, I am baffled how they fail to pay heed to public choice theory. This is the idea, for which the late, great James Buchanan, earned his Nobel Prize (an idea he developed with his friend and colleague Gordon Tullock in the book The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962].).
The gist of it is that public servants, so called–politicians, bureaucrats, and their colleagues–tend to promote goals of their own even as they claim to be serving the public interest. And this is not very difficult to grasp.
The public is, after all, a vast number of citizens whose interests vary enormously so it is a pure myth that there is a public interest that can be served by public servants. Given this plain fact, whose interest will public servants serve? The interest they consider important.
In the last analysis the so called public interest is really the private interests public officials like best. Even the democratic process cannot sort out what the public interest is. (The best approximation is put forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence where he identifies securing the protection of our basic rights as the purpose for which government is established, i.e., the public interest.)
Despite the hopelessness of pursuing and serving the public interest, politicians and their cheerleaders keep pretending that they have managed to overcome the hurdles facing them and assert that they are public servants instead of folks whose objectives are determined by lobbyists who represent innumerable, often conflicting, private and special interests.
I am confident that if one keeps the above in mind, one will have a clear picture of what is going on all the time in Washington, D.C. and other centers of political power. Intentionally or not, the public servants are all serving private and special interests and are hoping that their own calculation of how to line these up will assure their reelection. Because they all believe, earnestly, that somehow they will manage to figure out what is best for the country–or nation or state or the people or some equally nebulous body they claim they want to serve. (Or they are crooks!)
If they came to terms with public choice theory and learned the lesson it teaches, they would realize that the only public interest they can possibly serve is to secure the protection of the right to liberty of all citizens of the country. These citizens will then figure out what is in their own interest and pursue it good and hard in their own sphere of influence, with their own families, friends and fellows.
Until and unless this is acknowledged and implemented by our so called public servants, there will simply continue a Hobbesian war of all against all to get a more or less sizable portion of the public wealth. And even the current worries about the national debt can best be understood as a result of this failure to appreciate the implications of public choice theory (as well as the tragedy of the commons).
The Corruption of Individual Rights
Tibor R. Machan
Whenever a good idea surfaces, there will surely be many who will try to hitch their wagon to it filled with corrupt versions that aim to serve numerous purposes having little to do with the original good idea. One example is the idea of individual natural human rights.
Some simply disagree with the idea, like Jeremy Bentham did, denouncing it in various terms (e.g., “nonsense upon stilts”). Others do not like going about it straightforwardly. Instead they try to recast the idea to mean what it didn’t. A good case in point is the idea of welfare rights.
The rights John Locke identified as belonging to every adult human being are prohibitions, aimed at spelling out a sphere of personal jurisdiction, a private domain, for us all, one within which the individual is sovereign, the ruler of the realm as it were. For example one’s right to private property spells out the area of the world that one is free to use and roam with no need for anyone else’s permission; to enter this realm one must give one’s permission without which others must remain outside. One’s right to one’s life is similar. No one may interfere with one’s life without having gained permission, not even someone who means to do one no harm but only provide help (e.g., a physician).
The point of such rights is to recognize that every adult person is in charge of his or her life and property and others must not intrude. Why is this important? Because people make significant decisions about how they will live and if others intrude, these decision become distorted. Basic rights carve out the region of the world where the individual is in charge!
This is of course an irritant to all those who would just as soon have other people available to be used, bothered, nudged, and so forth. The tyrant is fended off by individual rights, as is the meddlesome legislator and regulator. So instead of accepting this, such folks are bent upon recrafting the idea of individual rights. Welfare rights are like that. If one has a basic right to welfare, it means others must become involuntary servants to one’s objectives and may not tend to their own affairs in peace. The idea of basic individual rights establishes peace among people. They must deal with one another by consenting to the various projects one might support. One may not be conscripted and robbed. And this is inconvenient, of course, to people who don’t want to bother about gaining the consent of those whose support they seek. Instead of convincing them of the merits of their projects, they can skip this troublesome step and just tax and draft and otherwise make people serve them whether or not they want to.
People of course often should help others but that must be done voluntarily. There is no merit to such help if it coerced! To avoid the perception that one’s support is coerced, the idea of welfare rights is fabricated! This needs to be resisted good and hard!
Public Museums and Censorship
Tibor R. Machan
Is there a difference between censorship and selectivity? In a private gallery or museum the owners or curators must always be selective. There isn’t infinite, unlimited room available to place all the art that might be exhibited. Good judgment is part of the job of management. Not unlike including versus excluding columns and other materials in magazines and newspapers and chapters or stories in collections, or stocking libraries, such editing is not censorship. The latter would involve some public authority imposing his or her decision on the owners/editors. Exercising professional judgment and authority isn’t censorship.
It is different when it comes to public museums or other public offerings. Reportedly some time ago Brooklyn, NY, deputy mayor, Joseph J. Lhota, who never went to see the paintings nevertheless made decisions about which were to be included and excluded from the Brooklyn Museum, decisions that turned out to displease some citizens. Supposedly just hearing about the materials was enough for Lhota who tried to make the museum remove ‘Holy Virgin Mary’ by Chris Ofili (a portrait initially accepted by the museum authorities) that contained elephant dung and images of genitalia in an eight-foot-tall portrait of the Virgin Mary, a semi-abstract collage that had been hanging at the museum.
Was Lhota engaged in censorship or the responsible supervisory work of a public official? There is no way to know. The reason is the radical yet entirely reasonable notion that in the last analysis there should be no public museums as all any more than there should be public churches or bakeries! For one, no decisions such as those that fall upon the curators can be made in the name of “the public.”
Even if one rejects the idea that beauty or artistic merit lies in the eyes of the beholder–in other words, even if there are objective standards of artistic excellence or merit–those aren’t the job of public officials to deploy. What is artistically worthwhile may not be subjective but it is highly varied, not uniform. But even if it were uniform, it would not be right for public authorities to meddle in art criticism, just as it isn’t right for them to adjudicate among different religions or moral systems. In a bona fide free country such tasks are all supposed to be privatized!